Albert Ayler Appreciation

January 20, 2013

THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2008 AS A CONTRIBUTION TO AN ‘APPRECIATIONS OF AYLER’ PAGE ON AN AYLER WEBSITE (AYLER.CO.UK) RUN BY DEDICATED AYLER BROTHERS FAN PATRICK REGAN.

I first discovered Ayler in the spring of 1970 when I was aged 16, living at home with my parents in North London studying for my A levels. I’d followed my peers away from Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons, Stax and Motown (don’t knock it, I still love that stuff) to the kind of “progressive” rock John Peel was playing on the radio. I particularly liked rock groups whose guitarists used feedback in clever, wildly harmonic ways (mind blowing, man). As I was learning drums, I was listening to some jazz but found even early Coltrane, Ornette and Dolphy to be too sober and older generation for me. One rock album that I listened to was “Trout Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart and on one track, “Dachau Blues” somebody (it might have been Beefheart himself) was doing some pretty “mind blowing” things on a bass clarinet which sounded to me better than the electric guitars. I was told that this was similar to the style of a certain Albert Ayler and took a chance by going out and buying “Spiritual Unity”.

I’m ashamed to say that my first impression of “Unity” was the “normal” one, a guy making noises for half an hour and having the gall to expect people to buy it. But as I persevered, I realised that I was learning a new musical language which had a logic to it that I might call “super-melodic”. I realised Peacock and Murray don’t accompany Albert, they play the song with him and  interact with him. The music doesn’t rely on repetition, every single phrase is different, there’s no 2 and 4, no AABA songform, a series of singular events like a continuously flowing conversation, and Albert’s sound which always makes me go all funny. Those shrieks, those foghorn farts, that love cry, that understandable righteous indignation felt by the Afro-American at that time striking a chord with all thinking compassionate people, nobody did it like Ayler. If he WAS crazy, then vive les foux! It was that understanding of Ayler’s group music that sent me back to explore that “square” jazz of Coltrane, Ornette, Dolphy and ultimately Bird to realise that their music worked the same way but was just more constricted by metre and chord sequence.

“My Name is Albert Ayler” could be seen as a bit of a joke with it’s so called “unsympathetic” (though excellent) rhythm section but that version of “Summertime” is gorgeous and “Green Dolphin Street” is the blueprint for me of Ayler’s 1964 triumphs.

I personally find the preoccupation with hymns and marches that we get when brother Don joins the band a bit on the tedious side at times but that version of “Truth Is Marching In” on the Village Concerts could be my no.1 fave Ayler track. One reason is, although I have great respect for Sunny Murray in the way he made lots of space for the quieter instruments, (and Milford works beautifully with Alan Silva), my preference is for Beaver Harris who swung like crazy, in fact, he rocked. On “Truth”, I have a cartoon image of a slow ascent up a roller coaster and then down we dive with Ayler and Harris going completely berserk. It sounds like some men in white coats had to restrain Harris during the Michel Sampson violin solo but halfway through, Beaver gets free of his captors and runs amock only to be restrained again while Sampson finishes his solo. For me, this music is perhaps the most exciting I’ve ever heard and just listening to it has me sweating by the time it’s finished.

“Love Cry” was nice but I thought the choice of alto wasn’t as exciting a sound as the tenor, (though it does sound beautiful on the ballads like “For John Coltrane” on the Village set). Graves and Silva are brilliant together with Call Cobbs just plodding on regardless. How I love counterpoint in free music.

Then “New Grass”.

Big shock!!

Ayler’s fans could be forgiven for thinking that ABC had accidentally pressed a pop album onto his latest. Just as Bob Dylan’s fans were justifiably annoyed to find themselves paying to hear “pop music” when he went “electric”, Ayler fans found themselves forced to listen to the kind of junk Ayler had helped them to escape from in the past. Apart from, of course, the prospect of greater financial security, the only artistic motivation might have been to take Mohammed to the mountain as it were and play in a more generally understandable style. I don’t know how much of this was an attempt to reach a larger afro-American audience in possibly one of the worst years for the civil rights movement (the King murder etc.) to keep the King message alive and to maintain spiritual unity within the Afro-American community. The record is, like most American junk, excellently played with a high standard of musicianship and great singing, in my view, from Albert and the Soul Sisters and I think “Free at Last” is a great R and B track. Albert still plays fantastically and shows himself favourably comparable to Junior Walker and King Curtis, the big sax guns on the R and B scene at that time. In fact, as has been suggested, a remix with just Ayler and minimum junk would be far more palatable. I think what is irksome to Ayler fans, is that “New Grass” was presented as the latest stage in Albert’s artistic evolution rather than a sideshow. I’d have been happy if it would have been as a Mary Maria album with special guest Albert Ayler who (I’m being ironic) proves that he can sock it to ’em like the best of ’em and he’s not just a crazy screamer. I certainly wouldn’t blame dedicated Ayler fans for not including this in their collection. It is junk – “sock” it to ABC Impulse, I think (where the sun don’t shine!)

“Healing Force” was a bit more like old Albert but I think the Melody Maker review that said he was sounding like a pale Pharoah Sanders copy was completely unfair. Pharoah was doing “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and Sun Ra “Outer Spaceways Incorporated” all good clean American fun, I guess.

I read about Ayler’s death in the Melody Maker. No speculation. I just hope it was an accident. A sleep deprived Ayler perhaps being blown into the water by one of those sudden gushes of wind you get in wintertime New York. For me, Albert’s having been taken to heaven by the holy spirit just seems psychologically easier to bear.

R.I.P  Albert Ayler.

D

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Dave’s Bio

January 16, 2012

I was born in June 1953.I spent my teen years in the ’60′s playing along with records on a shoebrush for cymbal,a magazine for a snare drum and pencils for sticks.My first playing experience was with best friend Marc Meggido (then a guitarist) playing “Hey Joe” etc but we both became curious about the “avant-garde” which led us to Coltrane,Ayler,Parker,Bailey,Bennink and some contemporary classical music.We met Terry Day and John Stevens who encouraged us and John offered us a gig for our trio with Charles Bullen on guitar (Marc now played double bass) at the Little Theatre Club in January 1973.It was at the Theatre Club that I met John Russell,Steve Beresford and Nigel Coombes and later Garry Todd and in 1975, Martin Davidson recorded us together to produce the Incus lp “Teatime”. In 1975 I decided for various reasons that I wanted to go back to time playing and after seeing me in the soul band “Expensive”, American songwriter,guitarist and singer Danny Adler invited me to join his band Roogalator.I toured with Roogalator through the winter of ’75-76 sharing gigs with the likes of Dr.Feelgood and the Sex Pistols but although we got favourable press and had offers from major record companies,it all went belly up and I got a job in a department store though I still did some improv gigs with Herman Hauge and Roger Smith.In 1979,I met my future wife Roberta who was a dancer.Berta’s father was a night club singer (Harry Kayne) who helped get me work on the cabaret and functions circuit so I packed in the day job.A surprise invitation to play on the follow-up single to the Flying Lizards hit “Money” led me to a Top of the Pops appearance in early 1980 performing “TV”.However the record stalled at no.43, the work on the cabaret circuit was drying up and I expected drummers to disappear and be replaced by drum machines so felt an anachoronism.With a child on the way,I decided to get a vocational qualification and ended up working in a music library.I spent the ’80′s and ’90′s helping Berta cope with our profoundly autistic son and working overtime to get our daughter through Italia Conti theatre school.The only music I did was in 1989 when, out of the blue,Danny Adler invited me to record a couple of cd’s with him,”Mackinaw City” and “Home Stretch” (the latter including Dick Heckstall-Smith of Graham Bond and Colosseum fame).But when Danny decided in 1990 to sell up and go back to America ,I gave up playing all together and just concentrated on family and job. In the mid ’90′s,I started to learn piano but it was seeing Jack Dejohnette on tv that inspired me to take up drums again.In 2003,Berta had an operation which left her crippled and I left the library to be her carer.She urged me to get back together with my old improv pals and a chance meeting with Steve Beresford in 2005 led me to the Red Rose and eventually to occassional free improv gigs. Berta died in June 2009 and since then I’ve been doing blues gigs and participating in jazz jams as well as helping John Russell out with the monthly Mopomoso concerts.

Here is a link to videos I am playing on

http://www.youtube.com/user/davesolomondrummer/videos

Berta

January 5, 2012

Roberta Elaine Kayne,my late wife,was born on 30th August 1954 and died on the 22nd June 2009.She was born in North London living as a small child in Highbury until moving to the Muswell Hill area (The Coldfall estate).The family name was actually Caplin but her father Harry changed the surname by deed poll.Harry was a singer resident at London’s Embassy Club in the  1950’s and ’60’s billed as “Mr.Ballad”.He also  sang in the chorus of the Norman Wisdom show “Where’s Charlie?”,making an  appearance on a variety TV show called “Lunch Box” and doing some work as an extra in the odd film(he was a friend of the comic actor Davy Kaye).There was an Al Jolsonish flavour to Harry’s “jazz” singer life as his observant Jewish family had hoped he’d become a cantor and in fact Harry continued to fulfill his commitment as a baritone with the London Jewish Male Choir throughout his career.  Berta had one sibling,an older sister, Stephanie,who herself was a singer and was one of those teenage hopefuls who were being pushed to stardom along with Lulu and Adrienne Posta.The family lived round the corner to pre Kinks Pete Quaife and there were guitar and vocal sessions at the family home.Sadly,despite a single on the Oriole label under the auspices of former Beatles manager Dick James,things didn’t work out..So Berta’s early childhood had a “showbiz” atmosphere and she was living in a world where dad went to work in the evening and came back at 4.a.m. with a packet of licorice allsorts for his mischievous younger daughter.Berta said she had a rotten time at school and told me that she failed her 11+ on purpose so she could go to the local secondary modern with a best friend and she remembered the long haired introverted “grammar grubs” like me with whom she mixed with in English classes when the school later became comprehensive.Like me,the drab humiliating existence of school life was escaped from in weekend activities and Berta,not wishing to be yet another singer in the family(mum Joy was also a singer having first studied to be an opera singer then singing on the old time music hall circuit-she participated in the reopening of the Hackney Empire in the 1980’s), chose to be a dancer and went to classes eventually ending up being taken on by top invijulator Cera Greenlaw.At 17,Berta was one of the dancers in a production of “Goody Two Shoes” with Helen Shapiro resident at a theatre in Billingham and she also did a bit of child extra work on TV appearing in a  production of “Great Expectations”.Later in her teens,Berta lost interest in being a ballet robot and went to the Dance Centre in Covent Garden where she did jazz and conditioning classes with Matt Mattox (who was in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) and Tom Maynard.She also starting playing guitar and writing songs like “Everywhere I Go” and “So Glad” inspired by the Carly Simon/James Taylor stuff popular at the time.She saw at first hand the fickleness of the “business” when she saw her dad fired from the Embassy Club in 1968 due to a change in music policy and forced to do the functions circuit,another blow to the dreams of fame and recognition she’d had for her father and sister.

After the usual trials and tribulations associated with growing up,Berta taught jazz dance and conditioning at a Jewish club in West Hampstead.I was going through a back to roots phase in my life trying to pick up from where I’d left off before I’d got myself involved in music.I’d been going regularly to this club and on the 10th of July 1979,I walked into one of Berta’s classes.I found that Berta was the first person I’d met at this club that I felt something in common with and within a year we were married(at Dunstan Road synagogue by the future chief rabbi,Jonathan Sacks,no less).Our first marital home was a flat above a shop in East Barnet and we got a standard poodle who we called Sammy.The flat had an area which was ideal space for Berta to give dance classes while I’d practice drums there.Our son Matthew was born at the end of 1981 and he was diagnosed a profound autistic.He became unmanageable at home (he was unable to toilet train and was extremely hyperactive and destructive at home) and he had to attend a special school in Staffordshire.Berta campaigned for better recognition of profound autism and we were both,as many parents of profound autistics,angered at the misguiding portrayal of autistic people in the film “Rain Man” ( Dustin Hoffman played a high functioning  autistic savant , not like Matthew and most autistic people).In 1986,we had a daughter,Helen Zoe,who we sent first to Ravenscourt(where Berta,while meeting Helen everyday at school closing time became friendly with fellow parent,Paul Weller,though Berta didn’t know who he was) and then to  Italia Conti theatre school (After a good period on the stage,Helen decided to move her talents into teaching).

In the late 90’s,Berta developed another one her talents,painting,and had success selling her paintings either on the street,in Knightsbridge cafes or sending to celebs.Hayley Mills,Dawn French and Peter Stringfellow were clients and she met with Anthony Newley and Joan Collins’ son,Sacha,for a possible joint exhibition though it never happened..Later she tried some filmmaking doing interviews of showbiz manager Johnny Mans and entertainer Jess Conrad and then in her last active years and using the name “Cass” she busked in the Old Compton Street area singing her own songs with her guitar.Some of the cast of the shows playing in the area would have a listen including Hollywood actor George Segal and Boy George and Keith Allen would give their encouragement.

Berta and I did some recording at Bonafide studio in Hoxton,East London but in 2002 she developed a large unbilical hernia and had to have an operation in early 2003.She couldn’t lift anything and could only manage a ukelele.There were complications and Berta became increasingly housebound and bedbound where a trip to the toilet was a painful ordeal.She was massively overweight not due to over indulgence but because her heart couldn’t cope with the amount of thyroxine she needed to compensate for a thyroidectome she’d had in 1987.It seemed this situation would go on forever.  There were indications that her condition might be worsening and our doctor was coming for a routine check in a few days.At about 12.30 pm on the day of her death,she seemed to be in distress.I’d hoped to be doing some playing that day but asked her if I should stay.She insisted I go as she just wanted to go back to sleep which she did.I didn’t come back until the early hours (which was usual on Sundays and Berta knew the musicians’ life) to find her seemingly in a deep sleep.Eventually,I called the ambulance expecting to be told I was panicking for nothing but ,to my shock,was told that she’d died.The detectives who examined her told me she appeared to have had a massive heart attack in her sleep and the post mortem confirmed left ventricle failiure as the primary cause of death.

I live with the irrational hope that she’s not in a cold grave but rather in a place somewhere of the kind of warmth and love that the world couldn’t give her.

Dave’s Fave Drummers

July 20, 2010
Dave Solomon,

Here are some drummers who’ve  inspired me. The first section is an overview of pop,blues,r’n’b,funk and rock drummers who got me interested in playing .Then I talk about individual drummers from the jazz and free improvisation worlds who’ve made an impact on me attempting to put them into historical perspective.

POP,BLUES,R’n’B,FUNK and ROCK DRUMMERS

When I first started drumming in the early sixties,I practiced to a 4 Seasons record called “Sherry and 11 Others”.I particularly liked the style of the session drummer they used on that album and learnt the feels and fills from who I subsequently found out was ‘PANAMA’ FRANCIS,a former swing era drummer who did mainly r’n b sessions in the late 50’s and ’60’s.Listening to American pop,rhythm and blues,soul or blues from that period made me fall in love with the the musically educated session drummers on the records who sounded so much better to me than the beat group thumpers from England.In the 50’s and early 60’as well as Francis,there was also New Orleans native EARL PALMER who played behind Fats Domino,Shirley and Lee,Sam Cooke and Little Richard.In Chicago,the great blues artists like Sonny Boy Williamson,Little Walter,Jimmy Reed etc would have FRED BELOW backing them with the great Willie Dixon on double bass.An enormous number of pop records coming out of America in the 60’s would have the drumming of  GARY CHESTER (Neil Sedaka,Little Eva,The Isley Brothers,Dionne Warwick,the list is endless) or BUDDY SALTZMAN(The 4 Seasons,Lou Christie,Peter Paul and Mary,Tim Hardin).HAL BLAINE will always be remembered for the work he did behind those great Phil Spector records by the Crystals,Ronettes and Darlene Love. Brian Wilson used Blaine (with the great Carole Kaye on bass). for the class material he recorded for the Beach Boys on “Pet Sounds” and others.Hal went on to work famously with Simon and Garfunkel.Then emerging from Detroit came the unique,maddeningly inimitable definitive Motown groove where,together with bass genius James Jamerson, BENNY BENJAMIN,RICHARD “PISTOL” ALLEN and URIEL JONES showed us how it’s done backing Mary Wells (“My Guy”),The Temptations (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”,”My Girl”);Martha and the Vandellas (“Heat Wave”);The Supremes,Marvin Gaye,Stevie Wonder,The Four Tops etc etc.Loose,jazzy,groovy,gospel derived- every backbeat drummer worships them.Watch the “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” documentary.There was competition though.A tighter sort of groove came out of Memphis where Booker T and the MGs drummer AL JACKSON stoked it up for Otis Redding,Sam and Dave,Eddie Floyd,Rufus Thomas and other Stax artists and he was behind that fantastic behind the beat slow groove on Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour”.Competing with Motown as well were the great soul artists from Chicago many on the Chess label.MAURICE WHITE and MORRIS JENNINGS backed artists like Etta James,Fontella Bass,Billy Stewart,Curtis Mayfield,Jerry Butler and Major Lance.More  soul gems came out of Muscle Shoals,Alabama where ROGER HAWKINS played on classic Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett records like “Funky Broadway” and “Mustang Sally”.But it was King studios in Cincinnati where the funk revolution started to develop  with that special unique edge that was in the music of James Brown.James wanted a greater emphasis on the first beat of the bar and there was more use of dotted sixteenth notes.He got it with MELVIN PARKER on “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and with CLAYTON FILLYAU on “I’ve Got Money” but the real superfunk breakbeat stuff developed in the late 60’s where Parker,along with the legendary “Funky Drummer” CLYDE STUBBLEFIELD (the man who played the most sampled bar of drumming ever) struck gold with the Pee Wee Ellis arrangements of  “Cold Sweat”,”Mother Popcorn”,”Give It Up Or Turn It Loose”,and “I Got The Feelin’.Other funk masters who must be mentioned are the New Orleans “Meters” man JOSEPH  “ZIGGY”  MODELISTE” (try “Cissy Strut” or the Lee Dorsey hits from the mid-60’s) .At the same time,blues men like Albert King,Buddy Guy and B.B.King were becoming increasingly recognised and I love the jazzy feel of B.B.’s drummer of the time,SONNY FREEMAN.A discovery of the American blues heritage by young rock players of the time who combined psychedelia with blues or jazz rock  stylings led to the emergence of drummers like MITCH MITCHELL (Jimi Hendrix Experience);GINGER BAKER (Cream);BILL KREUZMANN(The Grateful Dead);BOBBY COLOMBY(Blood,Sweat and Tears),ARTIE TRIPP(Captain Beefheart) and many,many others.However,the most effective,in my view,fusion of rock and jazz was the group Steely Dan which by the late 70’s  had become reduced to just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.To get the best possible results,they used top session players of the time including drummers like BERNARD PURDIE and STEVE GADD on albums like “The Royal Scam”,”Aja” and “Gaucho”.

MAX ROACH

There were many great drummers in jazz before Max but essentially they were simple timekeepers who were called upon to do an exhibitionist drum solo at some point of the performance.This was usually a display of  the speedy delivery of drum rudiments (which are patterns derived from military drumming) and brought excitement to the audience.The styles of  1920’s New Orleans drummers like BABY DODDS and ZUTTY SINGLETON were developed further in the  big band swing era of the ’30’s with CHICK WEBB,GENE KRUPA,SONNY GREER and the most celebrated exponent of this style,BUDDY RICH.The advent of small group bebop changed things though.Max was influenced by changes made by JO JONES,SID CATLETT,KENNY CLARKE and the legendary Chicago drummer IKE DAY and laid the foundation for the small group virtuoso melodic drummer  (i.e.drums tuned to specific notes like classical timpani). The ebullient swing of the big band drummers was gradually replaced by more of a  cool groove.Ting-tinka ting on the ride cymbal locking in with the walking bass,a steady 2 and 4 on the hi-hat while through a process called independence, a melody line on the snare drum( a good one to practice is “Ain’t She Sweet”)  and kicks on the bass drum .This more complex style of drumming would often be used to compensate for the punch that had been lost in the absence of large horn and brass sections. Listen to Max’s  brilliant work with Charlie Parker,Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins in the 50’s and with his own groups from the 60’s onwards showing him to be a giant figure in the history of modern jazz.

PHILLY JOE JONES

Following on from Max,a group of genius virtuoso drummers emerged in the 1950’s in a period when so called “hard bop” ruled on the east coast.Fiery Philly Joe is my personal favourite of these,booting countless classic modern jazz recordings along including Miles Davis’ “Milestones” and Coltrane’s “Blue Train”.Listen to his exemplary solo on “Let’s Cool One” from “In Orbit” with Clark Terry and Monk-drummers play the song as well,most people don’t realise that.As well as the playful ART BLAKEY (who had a great musical rapport with Monk),must mentions from this group of drummers are the ultra busy “snap,crackle and pop” of ROY HAYNES (Charlie Parker,Monk Five Spot 1958,into the sixties with early Dolphy,Coltrane and into the seventies onward with Chick Corea and Pat Metheny);the on top of the beat funky swing of LOUIS HAYES (Cannonball Adderley in San Francisco);the Max Roach inspired DANNIE RICHMOND (Mingus’ drummer);Elvin Jones’ predecessor as Coltrane’s drummer ART TAYLOR (he played fantastically on “Giant Steps” and earlier Coltrane albums).

BEN RILEY

Moving into the sixties,for me,the exemplar of clean,tight modern mainstream drumming is Mr.Riley and I feel his contribution to Monk’s music between 1964 and ’68 was astounding. Riley’s predecessor with Monk,FRANKIE DUNLOP played in a looser fashion than Riley and had great rhythmic empathy with Monk but Riley is more my personal role model.Other greats from that era who’ve influenced me are the intricate and brilliant MICKEY ROKER (Rollins on Impulse,Horace Silver “Serenade To A Soul Sister”); the great JOE MORELLO (that wonderful solo in Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” ); CHARLIE PERSIP(very subtle on Mal Waldron’s “The Quest”) ; GRADY TATE (Stan Getz “Sweet Rain”);EDGAR BATEMAN (Dolphy at the Gaslight Inn} plus many,many others including British drummers like RONNIE STEVENSON (great with Rollins and Stan Tracey at Ronnie Scott’s in 1965); LAURIE MORGAN who played with Johnny Dankworth,PHIL SEAMAN,KENNY CLARE,TONY CROMBIE,JACKIE DOUGAN,MARTIN DREW,JOHN MARSHALL,ALAN JACKSON,LAURIE ALLEN,TONY LEVIN,TONY OXLEY,LOUIS MOHOLO,DENNIS AUSTIN,DENNIS SMITH,TREVOR TOMKINS and many others who I saw regularly at local gigs or on TV

ELVIN JONES

The unique inimitable style of Elvin who adapted his style to the demands of playing with Coltrane.No-one did triplets (the famous 2 against 3 “polyrhythms) like Elvin (“Spiritual” from the 1961 Village Vanguard set is a good example).No one did a slow six-four like Elvin.(the version of “Out of This World” from “Live In Seattle”)He started to break from the strict “55”‘s(chank-a-dang) on the ride cymbal to a special lazy but intense behind the beat  1 2err(3) 4err feel).Elvin also brought his magic to the music of Sonny Rollins,McCoy Tyner,Wayne Shorter and his band the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine was a drummer led incubator for new talent with a similar heart and soul to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. BILLY HIGGINS For some reason,I find the relaxed melodic drone and light touch (even at staggering tempos) of Higgins more pleasing to me with Ornette Coleman than the intensely busy Roach inspired ED BLACKWELL (my favourite Blackwell is with Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot) .Also,listen to Higgins with Herbie Hancock on “Watermelon Man” and try not to get seasick and he played beautifully with Steve Lacy on “Evidence” and with Sonny Rollins and Don Cherry.Later Higgins has him on some of the soundtrack of the film “Round Midnight”.And of course he was the man behind the groove for that club anthem,Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”. Another beautiful drummer who emerged around the same time as Higgins was PETE LA ROCA who I particularly enjoy playing with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow showing the emergence of a freer style that evolved towards the free time of Bley’s later drummers,PAUL MOTIAN and BARRY ALTSCHUL .

TONY WILLIAMS

Taught from an early age by the brilliant drum virtuoso and educator ALAN DAWSON (see Dawson playing “There Will Be Another You” with Sonny Rollins on youtube),the teenage Williams seemed to play with the maturity of a player twice his age starting with his beautiful work on Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps To Heaven” and Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch” to his rock stuff with Lifetime, his wonderful playing with Sonny Rollins in the late ’70’,the Blue Note reunion concert in 1985 and with his own group in the ’90’s.What I love about Tony is that despite the fact that in later years he played with a heavy rock attack,he always swung.In association with Williams,of course, has to be BILLY COBHAM, the other great jazzer (a good example of early Cobham is the 5/4 piece with Horace Silver called “Jungle Juice” on “Serenade to a Soul Sister”) who went on to fusion fame.AL FOSTER and LENNY WHITE are two other notable names from the fusion era.

JACK DEJOHNETTE

It was seeing on TV Jack’s beautiful solo introduction to a concert with Pat Metheny,Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland that inspired me to get back into drums after a ten year lay off.Whether restrained and tasteful with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock ,(a trio that has it’s roots in the Paul Bley early sixties sides with PETE LA ROCA);funking it up with Miles Davis or swinging like the clappers behind Sonny Rollins or John Surman,he is an exemplary drummer musician who makes drumming beautiful.He also plays piano and indeed plays drums with the sensibility of a pianist.He composes as well(try “Ebony” from “Inflation Blues) and is one of the true jazz heroes in my view.Listen to his wonderfully melodic playing at “Pasic” in 2009 on youtube. ANDREW CYRILLE Cyrille to me clearly shows how a drummer in the “free” genre can maintain the standards set by the bop drummers  .He played most famously with Cecil Taylor and,to me,the definitive example of Taylor and Cyrille working beautifully together is on the first part of  “Second Act of A” from the “Nuits De La Fondation Maeght” album (on youtube as “The Great Concert part 1”).He’s been heard playing beautifully recently with  Paul Dunmall and Henry Grimes in the Profound Sound Trio (also on youtube).

BEAVER HARRIS

Of all the drummers who played with Albert Ayler,the best remembered ones are SUNNY MURRAY and MILFORD GRAVES.However,Ayler’s old army buddy,William “Beaver” Harris, played fantastically in the 1966 and ’67 period with Don Ayler on trumpet and Michel Sampson on violin.More bombastic than Murray and more conventional perhaps than Milford but to my personal taste I think Beaver was Ayler’s best match.Fasten your seat belt for Harris’  playing on “Truth is Marching In” from “The Village Concerts” and “Jesus” from Lorrach/Paris.Beaver was also great with Archie Shepp particularly on “Three For A Quarter,One For A Dime”.Coltrane considered Beaver as a replacement for Elvin but  RASHIED ALI got the  job developing a good rapport with Alice Coltrane on piano during Coltrane’s 1966-67 period.

MILFORD GRAVES

He’s of great importance because he began to change the sound of the traditional kit drummer sounding more like a group of African drummers than a jazz drummer.His novel approach first emerged with the  New York Art Quartet (“Mohawk”)  but the rumbling  style that placed the emphasis on drums with accents on the cymbals rather than the other way round is well represented on Albert Ayler’s “Love Cry” album.Milford continues to be a source of great excitement up to the present day,a very vocal drummer depressing the drum head to get a talking drum effect and he has become quite a showman as can be seen on various youtube videos.

HAN BENNINK To me,Dutch drummer Bennink represents the definitive feel of European improvised music. A tremendously exciting drummer who brought an edge and ferocity to the music totally unlike anything I’d heard before.See him on youtube playing with the Globe Unity Orchestra and with Peter Brotzmann in the early ’70’s and try to listen to early FMP(Peter Brotzman’s album “Balls” has Han on top form),ICP and Incus(“Topography Of The Lungs” with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey) records to hear his highly extroverted and ebullient playing.An experienced jazz drummer having played in his early twenties with visiting jazz artists such as Sonny Rollins,Wes Montgomery,Johnny Griffin,Dexter Gordon and most famously,Eric Dolphy,his style was, and still is,closer to a speedy swing drummer than an Elvin or Tony Williams style polyrhythmic drummer but the effect over the large arsenal of drums and small and bent cymbals was to create a rapidfire rhythmic rumbling effect with an African feel with punctuations on chinese and bent cymbals sounding very different to the conventional drum kit (though now Han plays a small kit,sometimes just a snare drum).Another important player from the early days who supplied that special European edge on an expanded unusual sounding kit was German drummer PAUL LOVENS while a kabuki kind of feel was in the playing of Japanese drummer SABU TOYOZUMI.Expanded kit drummers in the UK included TONY OXLEY who added electronics to his expanded kit.Superficially he may have sounded like Han but they were actually world’s apart.While Han’s style has that intensely rhythmic African feel,Tony,although a great jazz drummer himself,sounds more derived from modern pieces for percussion such as Varese’s “Ionisation” or Stockhausen’s “Zyklus”.Other important expanded kit players to emerge in the early ’70’s were Evan Parker duo partner PAUL LYTTON and JAMIE MUIR who played in the Music Improvisation Company and later with King Crimson;FRANK PERRY who developed a spiritual edge to his music;ROGER TURNER who played in groups with John Russell and others and the late PAUL BURWELL who played with David Toop and various performance artists.

JOHN STEVENS

 

John,along with TERRY DAY and EDDIE PREVOST (a co-founder of AMM) were founding drummers in the early days of improvised music in the UK.A fine jazz drummer,Stevens pursued to a greater level than before the collective,interactive aspect of jazz but with total equality for all the musicians.Considered a landmark,the lp “Karyobin” where John was joined by Evan Parker,Derek Bailey,Kenny Wheeler and a pre Miles Davis Dave Holland had a brief thematic line followed by collective improvisation.John used a kit comprising of small drums called tambours with chinese cymbals which drastically reduced the acoustic glare of the conventional drum kit giving a very sensitive effect.John had a particularly elegant technique and moved around the drums like a dancer.He made great music with sax player Trevor Watts both in large ensemble pieces such as “For Us To Share” or as a duo, “Face To Face”.He encouraged young musicians like myself and gave us opportunities to play at the now legendary Little Theatre Club where John ran gigs from the mid 60’s to mid 70’s.A rare video of John can be found on youtube playing with Derek Bailey,a sad memorial to two founders of improvised music in the UK who are no longer with us.A drummer who filled the void left by John’s death in 1994  was TONY MARSH who had played with Mike Westbrook and Don Weller but who’s Paul Motianesque sensitivity became much in demand in  the free improvisation world. Tony could  be heard regularly in many settings including a long standing trio with Evan Parker and bassist John Edwards and his recent death is a great loss to the UK improv scene.
TERRY DAY
Terry came on the scene around the same time as John Stevens and played in the People Band in the late 60’s and the Amazing Band a little later.He paid some rock’n’roll dues with Ian Dury’s Kilburn and the High Roads but like John Stevens, encouraged younger up and coming improvisers in workshops and at the Little Theatre Club. Terry was one of the founders  of the “lower case” quiet subtle music favoured by many improvisers in Britain.He was intent on giving space to other musicians and probably the drummer of choice for many violinists and acoustic guitarists.He also developed a stacatto subtle gentle language that involved varying the way the drum or cymbal is struck and played in the best way with that tense,nerve ending sort of feel .He not only influenced other drummer/percussionists in the improvised music field but other instrumentalists as well.Poor health  prevented him from playing drums for a long time but I’m delighted to say that he has recently returned to the drum stool and is playing fantastically.Terry also plays piano,home made reed instruments and his occassional poetry recitations are a delight.
There’s a lot of interesting drummers out there and I don’t diminish the brilliance of many younger players who’ve emerged over the last few decades.However,this is essentially about drummers who influenced me in my formative years i.e. the 60’s and ’70’s) but I have an open mind and am forever impressed by players I come across who are new to me.It should be noted that I’ve been referring to the “trap” drum i.e.the conventional drum kit tradition developed in the USA though the free improvising drummers mentioned above often drew as well from African, Indian and Far Eastern traditions.